News Release, Charles County Public Schools

School leaders from Charles County’s 37 public schools and centers kicked off the 2019-20 school year last week during the annual Administrative Leadership Institute. The annual event welcomes Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) principals, vice principals and administrative assistants with three full days of professional development to kick off the new school year.

The Institute was held Aug. 14-16 at North Point High School. The 2019 theme was “The Power of Your Words.” The Institute featured several guest speakers invited to talk with school administrators about relationship building with students, ensuring equity in teaching and learning, and lessons in school safety. Manny Scott, a Freedom Writer featured in the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, was the opening keynote speaker on Wednesday. In his comments, Scott delivered a message of hope and being the difference for students.

The author of “Even on Your Worst Day You Can Be a Student’s Best Hope,” Scott shared his story of how a complete stranger and a teacher helped him change the direction of his life. Scott, who dropped out of school at age 14, went back after a drug addict sat next to him on a bench and urged him to go back to school to avoid becoming like him. Scott went back to school and later went on to graduate from high school, attend UC Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He is now working on his doctorate degree.

Scott said he was the kid who took the issues of his household and crime-ridden neighborhood to school. However, it was an English teacher who made him believe in himself, and his potential. The teacher, Erin Gruwell, pushed Scott and his classmates to graduate by providing unending support, high expectations and encouragement for them to believe in themselves. “Your words have the power to keep people living or push someone over the edge,” he said.

Also greeting the more than 140 school administrators during the first day of the Institute was Russell McClain, an associate dean for diversity and inclusion and academic achievement program director at the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law. McClain has spent much of his career researching psychological factors that affect academic performance, including stereotype threats and implicit bias.

In his comments, McClain discussed how stereotypes and bias affect student learning and lead to achievement gaps. He shared strategies about developing a growth mindset, and how those strategies can help children and educators battle the effects of stereotypes on student learning. “How can we expect them to be capable of greatness if we do not believe it ourselves?” McClain said.

Wednesday and Thursday of the Institute also featured team-building activities, such as Jenga with shoes, professional development sessions on topics such as crisis intervention, gradebook updates and formative assessment, and updates in Maryland and special education laws. Friday was dedicated to the topic of school safety and security and featured a guest speaker with firsthand experience with a school crisis.

Michele Gay is the co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools, an organization that seeks to better protect schools with a mission of working with schools and school communities to provide safe and secure schools for children and educators. Safe and Sound Schools features several Sandy Hook parents, educators and community members as part of the organization, as well as safety and security experts, mental health professionals, and survivors from other crises, such as the Virginia Tech school shooting.

Gay lost her youngest daughter, Josephine, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. As she spoke to CCPS administrators on Friday about her experiences as a parent on the day and time after the shooting, Gay emphasized the mission of Safe and Sound Schools. “We have learned a tremendous amount from this. We are in a new position… we have the power and hindsight to prepare for the worst day ever. Simple measures, such as locking doors, can save lives,” Gay said.

Gay was invited to speak during the Institute by Jason Stoddard, CCPS Director of School Safety and Security. Stoddard met Gay during a conference last year and invited her to share her experiences with CCPS staff. After sharing her experiences of the loss of her daughter, Gay talked about what she focuses on to keep moving forward. “I have three pillars of what holds me up: family, friends and faith. I remember on that day, I sat in my car and prayed. As you begin another school year, think about your pillars… what holds you up on those days. And remember that you are a pillar for someone in the community,” she shared.

Preparing for the future is a goal for Stoddard this school year. During the Institute, Stoddard rolled out updated safety and security procedures and reviewed drills for students and staff. The drills include a lockout, lockdown, evacuate, shelter and hold, and include directions for both students and teachers. Additional enhancements this year for schools include trauma kits, of which Stoddard secured grant funding to supply every school with, enclosed main entrance areas for six additional schools and the application of safety film on windows at several schools.

CCPS is also implementing the student ID badge program at all seven high schools, two middle schools and continuing its pilot use at J.P. Ryon Elementary School. Stoddard and staff from the CCPS Office of School Safety and Security plan to visit staff at every CCPS school next month to review safety and security updates. Superintendent Kimberly Hill said one of the best decisions of her career was to hire a specialist in school safety and security.

“We are responsible for other people’s children. We need to do everything we can to make sure we are as prepared as we can be for any threat,” Hill said.

The Institute is named in memory of Ronald G. Cunningham, a former CCPS administrator and longtime teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. Annual activities as part of the Institute focus on leadership, student achievement, relationship building, diversity and commitment.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...